Thailand’s Military Names Economic Minister as Calm Holds

Thailand’s military junta ordered 35 more people to report to it by this afternoon or risk arrest, including ruling party members ousted in the coup, academics and a former protest leader who once seized Bangkok’s airports.

The junta is already detaining three ousted prime ministers and leaders of rival street protest movements. The latest order came today in a nationally televised announcement, which is how the military has issued orders since Army Chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha seized power May 22 in Thailand’s 12th coup since 1932.

Prayuth said he had no choice other than to take power after meetings called by the army between key figures from both sides of the political divide failed to find a solution to six months of sometimes violent unrest. The intervention threatens to increase the deep polarization that has taken hold in Thailand over the past decade between the largely rural-based supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup, and his royalist opponents.

“Military rule has thrown Thailand’s rights situation into a free fall,” Brad Adams, Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement today. “The army is using draconian martial law powers to detain politicians, activists and journalists, to censor media, and to ban all public gatherings. This rolling crackdown needs to come to an end immediately.”

Military Detentions

The military has detained about 150 people in total, said Winthai Suvaree, a spokesman for the junta. About 30 people called to report have failed to do so, not counting the most recent 35, which include three academics and a writer.

Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, reported to a military compound yesterday after being summoned along with officials including ex-premier Somchai Wongsawat and Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, who replaced Yingluck as caretaker prime minister earlier this month after a court ousted her on an abuse of power charge. The leader of the opposition Democrat Party, Abhisit Vejjajiva, was detained and released.

“Typically they would summon all kinds of people -- senior bureaucrats, government officials,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “Typically they would be released or they could be detained in some cases, but in the past nothing has happened to them and after a time they have been released.”

The army said 21 people were arrested in Khon Kaen province in the nation’s northeast. The people later confessed they were ordered by a pro-government group known as the Red Shirts to incite violence, the army said.

Protest Defiance

Small protests against the coup took place or were scheduled in different parts of the country today, a defiance of martial law that has been in place since two days before the coup. Several hundred people gathered at an intersection in downtown Bangkok yesterday evening to protest the military takeover. Under the watch of nearby soldiers, the protesters held signs with slogans such as “We Don’t Accept the Coup” and shouted “Prayuth get out!”

As the crowd grew, the army called in reinforcements and warned protesters to disperse. After the crowd thinned, the armed soldiers attempted to drag away several demonstrators, leading to scuffles. At least one man was taken away. The soldiers then moved forward to clear the area, as reporters and tourists snapped photographs.

Junta Positions

The military announced yesterday who would be in charge of running various parts of the government in the near term, including naming Air Chief Marshal Prajin Juntong to head economic ministries including finance, commerce, industry and energy.

Military officials are taking charge of an economy that shrank 0.6 percent in the first quarter as six months of political unrest crimped consumer spending and slowed growth in industrial production and tourism.

Prayuth is expected to remain in the role of prime minister for the immediate future, the Bangkok Post reported today, citing an unidentified person close to the coup leaders.

“The military will not want to have responsibility for the country for long, a year or perhaps a year-and-a-half,” said Michael Montesano, a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. Still, “it will be under pressure to see that thorough-going reform has been completed before it steps down. And it is unclear that that can happen quickly.”

Television Broadcasts

Some cable television operators, including True Corp., the nation’s biggest, resumed partial broadcasting today after having switched to army-controlled programming May 22, the day of the coup. International news channels were still blocked as of 2:30 p.m. in Bangkok and several satellite news channels catering to those on each side of the political divide remain closed.

The junta has threatened to shut down media outlets and social media platforms that allow the broadcast or publication of content that might incite unrest.

The U.S. denounced the military’s action and said it’s suspending $3.5 million in aid to Thailand. “This act will have negative implications for the U.S.-Thai relationship, especially for our relationship with the Thai military,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.

Singapore’s government said it had “grave concern” about developments in Thailand. Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said in a statement the coup was “regrettable.”

Unelected Council

Before the coup, anti-government protesters had been demanding an unelected council run the country to wipe out the influence of Thaksin and Yingluck, whom they accuse of corruption and using the appeal of economically damaging populist policies to win the last five elections. Government supporters, who were also protesting in Bangkok, vowed to fight any such move. After Thaksin’s overthrow it was more than a year before elections were held and civilian rule was restored.

Prayuth said yesterday that the military hasn’t taken sides, and plans to solve economic problems, including resolving overdue payments to farmers under the previous government’s subsidy program.

“Nobody ordered this,” he said of the coup. “There is no institution or any royal family member who ordered this. The ones who ordered this are the people, who are suffering.”

— With assistance by Chris Blake, and Suttinee Yuvejwattana

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